Water Fight Still Simmering In Idaho

By Tom Bacon

Two old foes are battling again before an Idaho government agency. The prize is water. In arid southern and southeastern Idaho, junior and senior water rights holders are still locked in an ongoing struggle over scarce water. 

On one side are about 2,300 junior water rights holders who own about 157,000 acres they use for farming, ranching, dairy operations and the like. On the other side is a fish farm.

 

And the fish farm is winning, because it holds senior water rights, some dating back to the 18-hundreds. Rangen, Incorporated is fish farm near Hagerman, Idaho, which raises fish so that a power company can stock the river it uses for hydropower generation.

But when Rangen issues a call for water- meaning that it asserts its claims under Idaho water laws - irrigators in the Magic Valley must give up their groundwater.

The issue this spring boils down to small volumes of water, about nine cubic feet per second. An association of groundwater users, unwilling to face curtailment of its pumping for irrigation, has agreed to a one-mile pipeline to the fish farm from a nearby spring to meet the obligation.

But a lawyer for the fish farm hinted that Rangen might not end its water call, fearing that the plan could fall apart.

Officers of the ground water users group suggested the fish farm operators are being deliberately stubborn, trying to force the state to buy it out and settle the water fight once and for all.

The fish farm lawyer, however, countered that he believes the Idaho Department of Water Resources is trying to protect ground water pumpers exploiting an over-appropriated aquifer to the detriment of senior rights holders.

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